Why Fiscal Stimulus Will End The Low Inflation Era

October 31, 2017, 4:00pm EST

BR caricatureLet’s take a look today at what fiscal stimulus might do to inflation.

The central banks have been able to boost asset prices. They’ve been able to restore stability so that people felt confident enough to hire, spend and invest again. But the scars from over-indebtedness have left demand weak. And because of that, despite the recovery of the unemployment to under 5%, the quality of jobs haven’t returned. And, therefore, the leverage to command higher wages hasn’t been there. That’s been the missing piece of the recovery puzzle.

And with that, we’ve had an ultra-low inflation recovery. That sounds great (low inflation).

But inflation at these low levels has had us (through much of the past decade) teetering on the edge of deflation. That’s bad news.

Among the many threats throughout the crisis period, a deflationary spiral was one of the Fed’s most feared. Central bankers can fight inflation (by raising rates). But they can’t fight deflation when consumer psychology takes over. When people hold on to their money thinking things will be cheaper tomorrowthan they are today, that mindset can bring the economy to a dead halt. It’s a formula that can become irreversible.

And that’s what has kept the Fed (and global central banks) sitting at ultra-low levels of interest rates – to keep the recovery momentum moving so that they don’t have to fight a deflationary spiral (as they have in Japan, unsuccessfully, for two decades).

Now, enter fiscal stimulus. We’re getting fiscal stimulus into an already tight employment market.

Real wages (employee purchasing power) has barely budged for two decades. Introducing big tax cuts and government spending into an economy that has low unemployment and the best consumer credit worthiness on record should pop demand. And that should finally give us some wage growth – maybe bigwage growth.

All of the inflationists that thought QE was going to cause hyper-inflation were wrong – they didn’t understand the severity and breadth of the crisis. Now, after global unlimited QE has barely moved the needle on inflation, the inflation hawks have been lulled to sleep. It may be time to wake them up.

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